CINCINNATI (FOX19) - A California man received a life-saving kidney transplant in Cincinnati on Monday after a months-long search for a donor that went viral through the horse-racing world.
Carlos Santamaria, 41, is a thoroughbred horse trainer at Santa Anita Horse Park outside Los Angeles.
He’s currently an assistant trainer to Bellafina, whom horse-racing aficionados will recognize as a favorite to win this year’s Kentucky Oaks.
But at one point, whether Santamaria would live to see that race was very much in question.
He had been feeling tired for a long time, he tells FOX19 NOW. What he didn’t know was his kidneys were failing.
Eventually he went to a doctor, says his fiancée, where he discovered he had only 3 percent kidney function.
In other words, he needed a transplant, and he needed one quickly.
That is when Mulligans got involved.
Mulligans is a Louisville-based volunteer organization that supports kidney-failure patients who are seeking live kidney donors, according to their website.
Representatives from Mulligans say 80,000 people in the United States are currently in that position—waiting for kidneys that might not arrive before it’s too late.
Thankfully for Santamaria, his kidney did.
As word about his condition spread through the horse-racing world, Mulligans put out local and national ads during the Kentucky Derby in May searching for donors.
It wouldn’t be some far-flung horse-racing viewer who responded, though. Instead, it was one of Santamaria’s friends, Suzanne Levenda, who went to get tested.
And she was a perfect match.
Santamaria and Levanda had surgery at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center on Monday.
They tell FOX19 NOW they’re tired, but grateful.
“Thanks is not enough,” Santamaria said. “You know, for me, like I told her, now she’s part of my family. I’m part of her family.”
“All of my friends, everyone who heads about it, they tell me, ‘you’re heroic,’” Levenda added. “And I say, ‘no, this is about being human.’”